The Couchiching Conservancy has launched the public phase of a fundraising campaign to protect a major section of one of the last wild rivers in southern Ontario.
"We have signed an offer to purchase a 730-acre tract of wilderness with 4.4 kilometres of the Black River running through it," said Doug Christie, president of the Orillia-based land trust. "The deal is set to close at the end of January, 2018, so we have a very short window to raise the funds necessary to bring this beautiful tract under permanent protection."
The land is one of several private parcels inside the boundaries of Queen Elizabeth II Wildlands Provincial Park, northeast of Orillia.
The Black River flows south and west from Haliburton County to the Severn River near Washago, about two kilometres downstream from the Severn River's source at Lake Couchiching. (It is separate from the Black River located in York Region, which flows directly into Lake Simcoe near Jackson's Point.)
Protecting the tract will improve the ecological integrity of the park, strengthen wildlife corridors developing in all directions, and secure a rare deep-sand valley left behind by receding glaciers more than 10,000 years ago. The property provides unique habitat for numerous species at risk, such as Blanding's and snapping turtles, eastern hog-nosed snake and numerous at-risk species of birds. It is also home to Ontario's only lizard, the five-lined skink.
"We're excited about the potential for hiking, canoeing and kayaking," said Mark Bisset, the conservancy's executive director.
The Ganaraska Trail, the second longest hiking system in Ontario, runs through a corner of the property, and the acquisition will improve river access for paddlers, he said.
The Couchiching Conservancy must raise $575,000 to secure the property, Bisset said. That sum includes the price of the property, legal and appraisal costs, and a mandatory stewardship endowment that will ensure the organization can care for the property permanently.
"We have had great support in the first phase of the project and we're approaching the half-way mark of our target, but we are really going to need community support to put us over the top," Bisset said. "This is a rare opportunity to protect so much natural beauty with so much local history."
The Couchiching Conservancy is one of the leading regional land trusts in Ontario. A non-government, charitable organization, it has helped protect close to 13,000 acres of important natural habitat in the Lake Couchiching region since 1993. Wherever possible, the lands are accessible to the public for the responsible enjoyment of nature.
For information on The Black River Wildlands Project, please contact:
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Article and photo courtesy of the Couchiching Conservancy.